Berkeley police restart undercover operation to catch laptop thieves

Isabella Ko/Staff

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In response to an ongoing series of laptop thefts, the Berkeley Police Department announced Monday the return of its undercover operation for laptop thieves.

BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White said undercover officers will be placed in cafes throughout the city. Most laptop thefts and robberies occur at cafes near campus, including Caffe Strada, Cafe Blue Door and Starbucks.

In the past, the undercover surveillance has been successful. On Feb. 17, BPD made six arrests at Caffe Strada in a single incident.

“We typically see a spike (in laptop thefts) when school is in session, and then summer comes, and it tapers off,” White said. “Now it’s the fall semester — there’s a new influx of people from different places who may not be accustomed to the Berkeley community. We’d like to let them know about this.”

According to the crime mapping website BPD uses, there have been 86 reports of theft or larceny in a 2-mile radius around the center of Berkeley in the past four weeks — of which 17 occurred last week. The amount of laptop thefts, however, is not specified.

According to UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Nicolas Hernandez, campus police are not partnering with BPD on the undercover operation. White, however, said a joint operation between the two departments may be possible in the future.

In addition to informing the Berkeley community of the operation, BPD included a list of tips to prevent laptop theft in a Nixle alert released Monday, such as being aware of one’s surroundings, not leaving valuables unattended and using a locking device to secure property to tables. BPD also suggests backing up work onto an external hard drive or to the cloud.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken reports from someone who had their electronic device stolen,” said White. “And one thing that I keep hearing over and over again is … ‘all of my pictures were on there’ or ‘my term paper was on there’ — stuff that you can’t get back unless you save it to a flash drive or upload it onto the cloud.”

Campus juniors Dina Al-Hassani and Haruka Ichikawa both mentioned being weary of using their laptops in public. Others, such as senior Aditi Lahiri who lived in Unit 1 when someone’s laptop was stolen from the premises, brought up incidences they remembered at nearby cafes and housing units.

Despite the placement of undercover officers around the city, some campus students are still concerned about leaving laptops in their own homes.

“My laptop actually got stolen yesterday from my apartment,” said campus senior Toshali Katyal. “This is a huge safety issue. … I just wish there was more responsibility for safety of students and their expensive products.”

Contact Jenny Weng and Boyce Buchanan at [email protected].